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What is the effect of an MDDC internship?

Over the past 15 years, 112 MDDC interns from 33 schools have served 34 MDDC member publications in 22 towns throughout the region.  For the 2015 internship year, MDDC received applications from 40 students representing 22 institutions and six internships will be awarded.

In December 2014, MDDC surveyed its editors and past interns to better understand the effect the Reese Cleghorn Internship Program has on the career outcomes of its participants as well as the value it has in the hiring process.

The Interns’ Perspective

Thirty-three of the 112 former interns responded to the survey (29.4% response rate).  MDDC asked its past interns about their career plans before their Reese Cleghorn Internship experience, their success finding full-time employment in the journalism field and how the internship related to it and where they are now.

Before the internship began, students overwhelmingly wanted to become print journalists (94%).  Twelve percent of respondents chose “other”.  Most of the other career plans focused on journalism and ranged from “Digital journalist, coder, front-end design”, “non-profit work”, “Online journalist” and “Digital/multimedia journalist”.

Seventy-three percent of respondents said that their internship experience confirmed their career plans.  Six percent (2 respondents) said that the experience changed their career plan.  Of those that changed career plans, one said “It made me want to pursue digital tools more than solely print. Print will remain important, but it's necessary for media to hone new skills and coding and interactive graphics to continue to create important journalism.”  The remaining 21% of respondents reported that the experience did not influence their career plan.

MDDC asked respondents “Did you work in a paid, full-time position in the journalism field after graduation? “ Fifteen percent of respondents (5 respondents) were still in school, and so this question did not apply to them.  Of those who have graduated from school (28 respondents), seventy-one percent (20 respondents) worked in a paid, full-time position in journalism after graduation.  Eight respondents, or 29% of those who had graduated, did not have a full-time, paid position in the journalism field.  When asked why not, three respondents shared they could not find a journalism job after graduation and pursued other opportunities.  One reported that “I have only been considered for paid internships. Luckily they have been paid or offered transportation stipends. I submit countless job applications and am constantly networking and contacting past internship employers. But I have only been offered internships--never full-time employment.”  Others were offered jobs outside the industry, and, although each enjoyed the internship, each decided to work in another field. 

Of those respondents who got jobs in the field, their experience was diverse and not limited to MDDC member publications.  A list of publications that provided those first jobs out of college follows.

  • Lowell Sun, Lowell, MA (Digital First Media daily newspaper)
  • The Naples Daily News, Naples, FL
  • The Daily Record, Baltimore, MD
  • Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative newsroom in Washington, D.C., covering money in state politics
  • POLITICO, Arlington, VA, covering transportation policy
  • Newsday, Long Island, NY, copy editor (website and print edition)
  • The Herald-Mail, Hagerstown, MD, (site of internship)
  • Sunlight Foundation, Washington DC, investigative reporting on campaign finances
  • The Register & Bee newspaper, Danville, VA (Media General) covering general assignment
  • Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, FL (6-month, paid full-time)
  • The Capital, Annapolis, MD, covering Crofton, Odenton and Gambrills for The Crofton West County Gazette.
  • American Metal Market (a Euromoney Institional Investor publication) in New York; Bloomberg LP in New York
  • The Palm Beach Post, West Palm Beach, FL
  • Chattanooga Times Free Press, Chattanooga, TN.
  • Full-time internship with The New York Times through the Dow Jones News Fund. The internship was extended from eight weeks to 12, and afterward I landed a full-time job copy editing for the Baltimore Sun Media Group.
  • The Washington Post, Washington DC (two respondents)
  • The Sun, Baltimore, MD, copy editor on the news and sports desks

Of those respondents that had a paid, full time position (20 individuals), 90% reported that the MDDC internship influenced that hiring decision.  Many cited the real-world, deadline-driven newspaper experience gained as well as published clips.  Some interns developed strong mentoring relationships and received letters of recommendation from intern supervisors.  “It gave me great experience and clips in a newspaper environment”.  “My MDDC internship was my first experience in a professional newsroom and provided me with the clips necessary to land subsequent internships. Those combined experiences afforded me my current job. Additionally, my editors from the MDDC internship continue to be mentors to this day. “

Others reported their MDDC experience “gave me a foot in the door” and  led to other opportunities  Although this respondent couldn’t provide a direct link from the MDDC internship experience to a full-time position, s/he says “…MDDC is known as a good editing program and it further bolsters my credentials as an editor to have gone through this program.”  Another respondent reported that her internship directly led to her hire, saying “my supervisors said they were impressed with my work during my internship and began recruiting me for open positions as my graduation approached. Unlike other potential employers who would only have seen the products of my work through clip packets, my internship supervisors knew me and my work style and were confident I would be an asset to their team. Likewise, I already knew the newsroom was a good fit for me, so I was able to accept the job offer with confidence. “

Of those respondents who had a paid, full-time position in journalism after graduation (20 individuals), 84% are still in the journalism field.  Of those who are no longer in journalism (3 respondents), one reports being laid off twice from the same job, another reports “Difficulty in relying on being a journalist and making a decent salary” and one reports choosing a career as a school library media specialist

The Editors’ Perspective

15 respondents reported that they make or influence hiring decisions in the newsrooms.  Ninety-three percent are aware of the Reese Cleghorn Internship program, and fifty-eight percent report that their organization has hired Reese Cleghorn Interns in the past.  Forty-two percent were not sure if their organizations have hired Reese Cleghorn interns.  A sampling of comments articulating the value of the internship in the hiring process:

  • “We have found the interns are well-prepared and energetic. They have been capable of tackling fairly challenging assignments and provide a great boost to the coverage in our newsrooms. This generation of journalists also tends to be more technologically fluent, so they have the added bonus of helping our staff improve their skills in that regard.”
  • They have more experience than most recent college grads, and they understand the expectations.
  • Our interns bring news skills and ideas into the newsroom, and contribute to our print and online products with stories, photos and videos.
  • We know it's a rigorous process to just be interviewed and hired as a MDDC intern while in college. So, we know there is a strong likelihood that he/she will make for a good hire later because of the hands-on experience.
  • Although we didn't hire her, we still use one former intern as a freelancer at times. She brings a fresh perspective to stories (which helps since most reporters have been on their beat for a while and may overlook items), is upbeat about any assignment we have available and offers new ideas for stories.

The Reese Cleghorn internship provides the skills and experience editors look for.  The most important factors editors cite in the hiring process are those highlighted in the internship program.  The most important factor to editors in the hiring process is practical experience (3.62 on a 5-point scale), followed by quality of clips (3.54 out of 5) and recommendation from another editor (3 out of 5).  These are the areas previous interns cite as the most valuable in their internship experience. 

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